PENSACOLA- When the College of Central Florida softball team looks back on this season, it will be hard pressed to find a bigger win than the one it earned on Sunday afternoon.
Lindsay O'Steen went 5-for-7 and drove in the game-winning run with a run-scoring infield hit in the bottom of the 11th inning, as the Patriots downed rival Santa Fe College 8-7.
CF (42-12) rallied from down four runs in the sixth inning and sent the game into extra innings when Jordan Lane hit the first pitch of the seventh inning for the game-tying solo home run. From there, in the 11th, the Patriots got a two-out double by Lizzy Burchfield, who moved to third after a passed ball and O'Steen, who is now 10-for-15 in three tournament games, hit an infield grounder that the Saints were unable to handle.
"It was a total team effort and we got contributions from everyone," said CF coach Kevin Fagan. "We've got a deep bench and everyone did their part.
"We've got a lot of confidence in our offense. We don't blink when we get down."
With the win, CF moves into the Atlantic District Championship Round for the second straight year. This time, the Patriots have the advantage of needing just one win in order to earn a spot in the FCSAA State Championship Game, but more importantly a spot in the NJCAA National Tournament in St. George, UT.
The Lady Patriots, who were 2-33 against the Saints since 2006, snapped a 12-game losing streak to SFC earlier this season and with Sunday's victory avenged a loss in last year's district final.
CF will face either Indian River State, Lake Sumter State or Santa Fe in the Atlantic District Championship Round on Monday morning at 11 a.m EST.
CF got a gutsy effort in the circle from Autumn Hanners, who went all 11 innings in the game that lasted 4 hours and 1 minute. O'Steen's fifth hit of the game ended the marathon and sent the CF faithful into celebration mode.
"She's a great kid and I am real happy for her success," Fagan said of O'Steen, who started the game off 4-for-4.
Coming into the game, O'Steen had been 1-for-10 against SFC this season, but the freshman from Mayo Lafayette High delivered in a big way. The Saints held a 7-3 lead after the scored three-run homer in the top of the sixth, but Maddie Peres, the Mid-Florida Conference Pitcher of the Year, couldn't hold down a powerful Patriot offense. Burchfield, who finished with two doubles off the bench, had a key run-scoring two-base hit, before a run-scoring single by O'Steen and one of two sacrifice flies in the game by Amy Szymanowski to pull the Patriots to within 7-6.
After Hanners, who ended the game with five straight scoreless innings, retired the Saints in the top of the seventh, and set the stage for Lane. Coming into her at-bat in the bottom of the seventh, Lane was 1-for-9 in the tournament and hitless in her last five at-bats against the Saints. The freshman from Pasco High, though, put all that behind her with her homer to left field.
CF was led at the plate by O'Steen (who also scored two runs and had a double), Taylor Morrow (3-for-6), Szymanowski (1-for-2, two RBI), Hanners (RBI), Amber Acosta (1-for-3, run scored) and Caylee Underwood (1-for-4, run scored). Underwood also made a key defensive play in the top of the 10th when she made a diving catch at the left field foul line with a runner at second with two outs.
Hanners (8-2) earned the win after going all 11 innings and striking out six. Entering the game, she had seven straight relief appearances where she didn't allow a run over 12 innings, but when she was needed to start, the freshman from Winter Park Lake Howell was just as clutch.
"She's the most confident kid on our team and she was fresh and ready to go," said Fagan. "She made some big pitches and battled hard for us."
Amber Maxey (11-9) took the loss in her second stint of the game for the Saints. Maxey, who was 5-0 lifetime against CF, was chased after 1/3 of an inning and 23 pitches, after Cheyenne Blaha scored on a passed ball and Hanners came up with a run scoring fielder's choice.
SFC, which won its ninth MFC title in 10 seasons, battled back with two runs in the second, before it took its first lead of the game on a two-run homer by Rachel Hoeft in the fifth.
CF got one run back on a sacrifice fly by Amy Szymanowski in the fifth, before the Saints scored three times in the sixth. The Patriots, though, had too much O'Steen, Lane, Burchfield, Hanners and company and improved to 3-0 in the state tournament for the first time in school history.
"I'm proud of the girls," Fagan said. "They never stopped believing."